Expat Magazine

How to Move to Europe (or Elsewhere)

By Ovid @OvidPerl
It's that time again when people are upset at the results of the US presidential election and traffic to this blog spikes. I've written for years on different ways to move abroad, but I've let the blog go fallow as other priorities presented themselves. So here's a quick primer for those new to the topic.

Who Am I?


Your author at the São Jorge Castle in Lisbon, Portugal

I'm an American who's lived in the US, Japan, the UK, the Netherlands, and now France. My wife and I have considered other options, such as moving to Spain or Malta, but in all honesty, we'll probably stay here in France. Despite some problems, France is a pretty awesome place to live.
I started this blog simply because people kept emailing me to find out how to move abroad and other sites were too niche (how to move to Belize!), or scams (pay us money to move to this deserted island and be free!), or were light on details in an attempt to sell you something (buy my e-book on how to get a new passport!). So my emails got longer and longer and I learned more and more and eventually decided it would be easier to start a blog and point people at it than cut-n-paste from older emails all the time.
So let's consider why and how to move abroad.


If you want to move abroad because Trump is the president-elect, slow down. Moving abroad is a very tough decision, it can be very emotionally difficult, and the grass isn't necessarily greener on the other side of the fence. In fact, surveys conducted by Dr. von Koppenfels, myself, and others all tend to indicate that few Americans living abroad are doing so for political reasons (the number seems to be less than 5% of the 6 to 9 million Americans abroad). Also, while many migrants move abroad for push factors (war, famine, unemployment, etc.), those factors honestly aren't that serious in the US. Instead, if you're considering moving abroad because of Trump, I would strongly recommend asking yourself the following question.
Would I want to move abroad if my favorite candidate was elected president?
If the answer to that is a sincere "yes", you're good to go. Why? Because that's a pull factor. You want to move abroad for adventure, love, or work, not because you're running from something. In the long run, you're more less likely to be disappointed living abroad.

The Basics


My friend Paul, hamming it up on top the Leaning Tower of Pisa

Next, be aware that other countries probably don't want you. That's harsh, but consider that I live in France, the most popular tourist destination in the world. If France were to suddenly let everyone move here, without restriction, our basic services would be flooded. We have what is arguably the best health care in the world, virtually free university education, and a fantastic social safety net, along with mind-boggling bureaucracy. That's expensive, so France, like every other country on the planet, usually tries to limit immigrants to those who are likely to pay more into the system than they receive. This means that you typically can't just buy a plane ticket and move. You'll usually need to apply for a work permit or a residence permit and most countries (not all!) are very picky about who gets those.
Second, you'll want to read why you'll say "no" to moving abroad. It sounds paradoxical given that you're here, but for most people, moving abroad is a fantasy. Were they to be hit with the reality, they'd be woefully unprepared. They don't have a passport, or they're in a long-term lease, or their partner says "no", or they don't want to leave their family, and so on. So if you want to move abroad, read that link and get your affairs in order. You can't leave if you aren't read to leave. And for goodness' sake, get your papers in order.

Getting Out

So now that you've made the commitment, how do you get out? Mostly people leave via one of three routes:
  1. Marriage/Civil Partnership
  2. Citizenship
  3. Work/residence permit or the equivalent
First, let's be honest: maintaining a relationship is hard, a long-distance relationship is even harder. Doing so merely for the opportunity to move abroad generally doesn't work. Believe me, I've followed this topic for years. Maybe you'll travel abroad and meet the love of your life, but that's the exception, not the rule, and some countries are trying to even limit that. Unless you are very lucky, that's an unrealistic expectation. I have a French wife, but I met her while living in London. I didn't leave the US for her.
Second, you probably don't have citizenship in another country and can't get it. However, there may be options. If you have Italian ancestors, you might be able to claim citizenship in Italy. If one of your parents or grandparents was born in Ireland and had Irish citizenship, you might be able to get an Irish passport. Jewish ancestry might get you into Israel. In short, trace your ancestry and if you find a (relatively) recent ancestor with foreign citizenship, explore that country's laws. Many countries offer citizenship to their citizen's ancestors.

During the ceremony

Your author and his wife, getting married in the Tower Bridge, London

But you probably don't have that route, either, so you're looking at a work or residence permit (or the legal equivalent thereof). If you're lucky enough to have high demand skills, particularly in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Medicine) field, read my five part "how to get a work permit" series. That will explain the basics that most people go through (and it's the route I took), aside from those who transferred with their work.
If you're young, or poor, or have little work experience, then you're probably looking for the young person's guide to living abroad. That covers a variety of options you likely didn't know about.
If you have a remote income (i.e., you work from home and can do your work from anywhere), there are a number of countries which will let you live there with a remote job if you can demonstrate financial self-sufficiency.
It's a big world and there's a lot more I could say, but that covers the the most important points. There is plenty of other information in this blog, including opportunities to buy residency or citizenship (usually requires a lot of money), what to do if you have a felony conviction, emotional considerations, legal implications, and more. I can't even begin to cover it all. So I'll just finish with my list of the top 10 expat myths.

Top 10 Expat Myths

  1. Expats are rich
  2. Expats hate America
  3. You need a college degree
  4. Everyone speaks English
  5. I'll learn the local language
  6. The world is dangerous!
  7. People in country X are rude/friendly/some other stereotype
  8. It's like a 24/7 holiday
  9. Life is better/worse in country X
  10. My kids will love it!
Explaining all of those would be a blog entry for each, but many of them are covered in this blog, somewhere. Use the search box and explore!

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